Theology 101

What Perfect Shalom Looks Like

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You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.”

– Revelation 4:11, KJV

Do you want to lead a personally fulfilling and spiritually significant life?

To be able to do so, we need to know why we were created. We need to understand what our work is to accomplish and how through that work we can better steward all that God has given us.

In order to accomplish this, we must understand the creator’s original objective in creation, which was to bring glory to himself. As suggested in my last post, one of the ways we do this is by understanding how to correctly enjoy the very goodness of God’s creation, because by doing so we bring him glory.

In the Garden of Eden, that very goodness is best described by the Old Testament concept of shalom.

In Genesis 1:31 we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” As God looks out upon his finished creation, he sees that all the good things that he has created now work together in an extraordinary way…the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. In accord with God’s design, every part of creation is distinct, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything works exactly as he has intended.

In the Old Testament, this idea is called shalom. As Cornelius Plantinga writes in his book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be,

Shalom is …the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be…the full flourishing of human life in all aspects, as God intended it to be.

Shalom (including its Greek counterpart eirene found in the New Testament) and its cognates appear 550 times in the Bible. In most of our English Bibles, we translate shalom as peace, but it means much more than just an absence of conflict. The concept of shalom in the widest sense of the word is one of the most significant themes in the Old Testament.

Biblical scholars tell us that shalom signifies a number of things, including:

  • Salvation
  • Wholeness
  • Integrity
  • Soundness
  • Community
  • Connectedness
  • Righteousness
  • Justice
  • Well-being

Shalom denotes a right relationship with God, with others, and with God’s good creation. It is the way God intended things to be when he created the universe.

  • When the Lord brings shalom, there is prosperity (Psalms 72:1-7).
  • There is health (Isaiah 57:19).
  • There is reconciliation (Genesis 26:29).
  • There is contentment (Genesis 15:15; Psalms 4:8).
  • When the shalom of the Lord is present, there are good relationships between the nations and peoples (1 Chronicles 12:17-18). God’s shalom has a social as well as a personal dimension. nature images

This was God’s original design for his creation, not that we live in scarcity, poverty, or in minimalistic conditions. He desires that we enjoy the fruits of his creation and the fruits of our labor because by doing so we bring him glory.

The story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis also explains why we all long for shalom, “the way things are supposed to be,” because it has been woven into the very fabric of creation. In a forthcoming research paper for IFWE, biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington writes:

Human flourishing alone is able to encompass all human activity and goals because there is nothing so natural and inescapable as the desire to live and live in peace, security, love and happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. This desire motivates both belief in religion and the rejection of it; monogamous marriage and a promiscuous lifestyle; waging war and making peace; studying history and creating art; planting fields and building skyscrapers. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.

Every person has a powerful, relentless drive to experience shalom through right relationships with God with our families, with our communities, and with the physical creation. This is because shalom was God’s original design in creation. And as we will see, restoration of shalom is his design in redemption.

Understanding shalom is the key to realizing how God intends to use the work of our hands in the restoration of his creation.

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